Saturday, December 21, 2013

Don't Believe It! How Lies Become News by Alexandra Kitty

I bought this at After-words, probably around the time it came out in 2005. I started reading it, abandoned it for a few months, came back to it, and put it down again. When I picked it up this month, the bookmark was at page 136. This gave me another 240 pages to go.

Don't Believe It! is an excellent guide to critically analyzing the news. Kitty gives copious examples of various kinds of deception and how to spot them. Some examples are well-known, such as Susan Smith's story about her car being stolen with her children inside and disgraced reporter Jayson Blair's fictional newspaper articles.

Note that this is not one of those "the mainstream media are lying to you" polemics (though the publisher, Disinformation Books, is known for that sort of thing). Actually, many if not most of the errors covered in this book are due to sloppy reporting and/or clever hoaxing. It's the sort of book that should be used in college courses, especially journalism. I only had a few journalism classes before I changed my major, but I don't recall this much useful info about how to spot deceptive sources and such.

So if this is a good book (and it is), why didn't I finish it before? Well, Kitty is very thorough. She provides lots and lots of examples, and frankly it's overkill. I found it hard to keep track of so many stories, especially when she referred back to them in later chapters (naturally, this was much worse with regard to stories that had been mentioned in the chapters I read years ago, but that's not her fault). I was shocked and disappointed to find no index to accompany the 375 pages of information-dense text. Fewer examples would have made Don't Believe It! easier to read, and it is a book that should be read widely. If nothing else, at least check out the CliffsNotes-like "Manual of Rumors and Hoaxes" at the back of the book for a list of questions to ask yourself when assessing a story.

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